Student Book Reports, Not Historians, May Have Final Say on Clinton’s Legacy
by Matt Sullivan
illustration by Dave Dawson
“Abraham Lincoln was born in a log cabin which he built with his own hands.” There it was – the first line of my book report for Mr. Mitchell’s American History class. Brian Douglas and I had been burying fun “facts” like these in our term papers for Mitch’s class for months now, but to brazenly present my revisionist history in the first line of my Lincoln paper… this was unprecedented.
It was Brian who first suspected that Mr. Mitchell was not bothering to read our papers. He had observed Mitch grade a paper with a B+ after only measuring its margins and checking to see if it reached the assignment’s length requirement of 3-5 pages. There was no way he actually read the four-page paper in the seven seconds it took him to hand down the B+. Evelyn Wood herself couldn’t read at that rate. As far as the paper’s actual content, it might as well have been Xeroxed out of the encyclopedia (this was before more sophisticated methods of cheating, like downloading other people’s papers off of the Internet, were common). Really, the assignment was more a handwriting exercise than anything (this was before computers were used by the likes of public school students such as ourselves).
From the sperm of our fertile minds and the egg of Mr. Mitchell’s tenured apathy, a scam was conceived. This was not Brian’s first run-in with academic impropriety – he had been busted for illegally smuggling an abacus into the SAT (I have neglected to mention that we were in 12th grade at the time of these events). Me, I was cleaner than a baby’s butt. No, wait, that’s not right… I was cleaner than a…
I was really clean.
Brian started out boldly, inserting random, lengthy paragraphs about who he was going to pick in his upcoming Rotisserie draft into a paper ostensibly about whether the Boston Tea Party was justified. I was more timid, actually writing a full report and tacking some humorous flourishes towards the end. This way I had a fall-back defense if caught – “Just trying to keep you awake, Mr. Mitchell!” Still, I was relatively daring, especially for me: “John Adams died in 1826, leaving a wife, Morticia, and a beer, Sam. Despite a brief resurrection during the heyday of Studio 54, he has pretty much remained that way – dead – ever since.”
Such comic addendums soon were not enough to satiate my burgeoning appetite for scamming Mr. Mitchell. Brian and I had been enjoying our status as cult heroes, as photocopied versions of our Mitch-graded farces regularly made the rounds at study halls all over Quincy High (some teachers were even rumored to have a chuckle about them over coffee in the Teacher’s Room), but we needed to take it to another level.
Sparked by my hypocritical anger at not getting caught (“My parents tax dollars are paying his salary,” and so on) and, admittedly, buoyed by the fact that 75% of Brian’s opus “What The Constitution Means To Me” was about the sorry state of Boston sports radio, I pressed on.
That’s when I came up with the Lincoln lead, which Brian praised as “genius.” He had received an A- for his sports talk radio missive – Mitch had docked him half a letter grade for ignoring instructions by writing 5 1/2 pages instead of “3-5”, but applauded his extra effort, albeit without reading a word of it. My goal was to receive an A+ on my Lincoln paper – without mentioning the Civil War, the Gettysburg Address, or John Wilkes Booth.
I decided to aid my grade-grabbing cause by flamboyantly wearing a top hat and a fake beard fashioned in the Lincoln-style (the ‘chin curtain’) when I passed in my paper. I almost felt bad the way old Mitch lapped up my antics.
Almost. My “Dishonest Abe” tactics got me the desired A+, and Brian and I celebrated in style, toasting Mitch by clinking our Veryfine Fruit Punches during “C” lunch at the cafeteria. That day, “C” lunch, was, at least for Brian and me, “A+” lunch.
UPDATE: Mr. Mitchell is now retired, but not before I cured his illiteracy. A well-received After-School Special, “The Teacher Who Couldn’t Read,” was made about our saga. I was played by Taimak, the talented young star of The Last Dragon.
Brian Douglas is now a witch doctor in Maryland. He had a legal run-in a few years back, when he faced $2000 in library fines for overdubbing his own voice onto several books on tape. He brilliantly imitated each narrator’s voice, often introducing new characters and always changing the endings of the books. He was caught when a blind girl lazily refused to read the Braille version of Johnny Tremain. The blind girl’s book report and accompanying diorama had incorporated Brian’s passages about Paul Revere molding a buzzing chain-saw onto Johnny’s melted stump of a hand, with JT then using his chainsaw hand to slay Redcoats. The charges were dropped when Brian magically relieved the head librarian’s arthritis by killing his own dog and spilling its blood onto the library’s card catalog.
Me? Well, what can I say? Let me put it this way… You know that song “Ghetto Superstar”? It’s about me.